Florida Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court in Negligent Driving Liability Case

Recently, the district court of appeals for the State of Florida Fifth District issued an opinion in an appeal involving a negligence claim by the Appellant, Carol Ann Kulzer, who claimed injuries and damages in her suit against the Appellees, Greenleaf Trust, and an employee, Sarah Marie Way. Ms. Way was running errands related to her employment with Greenleaf, such as inspecting and readying condominium units for sale when she stopped for lunch. Following lunch, she was heading back to a condominium for a business meeting when she negligently collided her car into the car driven by Ms. Kulzer. At trial, the court granted Greenleaf’s motion for summary judgment, absolving it from any vicarious liability to Ms. Kulzer. Ms. Kulzer appealed, arguing that Ms. Way was within the course and scope of her employment at the time of the wreck, and the appellate court agreed, reversing and remanding the decision for further proceedings.

Facts of the Case

Ms. Way ordinarily worked for Greenleaf in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but was temporarily assigned to work in Ormond Beach, Florida. Her role in Ormond Beach involved inspecting a condominium unit left to Greenleaf. Inspecting the unit consisted of dealing with some of its contents, helping prepare it for market, listing, and sale. Greenleaf paid all of Ms. Way’s expenses associated with her travel and work in Ormond Beach, including her meals. On the day of the incident in question, Ms. Way traveled to the condominium in the morning, left the premises around noon, and was scheduled to attend a 2:00 p.m. work-related meeting at the condo. After leaving her lunch to return to work, Ms. Way caused the wreck with Ms. Kulzer that prompted the suit around 1:46 p.m.

At trial, Ms. Kulzer sued Ms. Way for her negligence in causing the accident and sued Greenleaf on the theory that it was vicariously responsible for the negligence of its employee committed during the course and scope of her employment. Ms. Way admitted fault for the accident. Greenleaf moved for summary judgment, claiming that Ms. Was not within the course and scope of her employment at the time of the wreck. Under current Florida law, known as the coming and going rule, when an employee is on a single-purpose, personal lunch break, away from the workplace, and not engaged in the employer’s business in any manner, the employee is not considered to be within the course and scope of employment for workers’ compensation purposes. Based on the facts presented at trial, the trial court granted Greenleaf’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that under the coming and going rule, Ms. Way was not acting within the scope of her employment.

On appeal, Ms. Kulzer argued that Ms. Way’s conduct qualified as acting within the scope of her employment, stating that the trial court misclassified Ms. Way’s actions that day. The appellate court found that: (1) Ms. Way was running errands that were self-described as work-related, (2) there was no undisputed evidence that the mid-day journey occurred substantially outside the time and space limits authorized or required by the work to be performed, and (3) the evidence was undisputed that Ms. Way’s mid-day journey was motivated at least in part by a purpose to serve her employer, Greenleaf. As a result, the appellate court agreed with Ms. Kulzer, reversing and remanding the decision for further proceedings.

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